Saturday’s Big East matchup between the Marquette Golden Eagles and Villanova Wildcats at the BMO Harris Bradley Center will feature two teams coming off of very different performances.
The No. 4 Wildcats (16-2, 5-1) are coming off of an embarrassing 96-68 home defeat against the Creighton Blue Jays. Ethan Wragge stole the show for the first-place Jays, nailing nine three-point baskets and trapping Villanova in a big hole they could not climb out of.
The Golden Eagles (11-8, 3-3) enter the matchup riding a small wave of momentum. They rallied back to force overtime on Monday night, thanks to a Todd Mayo game-tying three-pointer with six seconds left and a 15-point overtime performance in route to an 80-72 win on the road against Georgetown.
Marquette’s 20-game home winning streak will be in jeopardy against Villanova, though.
The Wildcats post the second-best offense in the Big East, averaging 80 points. A good chunk of those 80 points is spread across three Wildcats: JayVaughn Pinkston (15.3 PPG), James Bell (14.2 PPG) and Darrun Hilliard (13.5 PPG).
Pinkston is the player to watch for Villanova, and it will be interesting to see how the Golden Eagles match up with the 6'7" forward.
Who will win Saturday's matchup?
Many consider Saturday’s contest a must-win for the Golden Eagles, who have been extremely disappointing for most of the season.
Defense is never a problem for Marquette, as Buzz Williams’ squad ranks first in the conference in points allowed per game (64). Offensive consistency, however, has been the lacking element of Marquette’s formula.
The team got a shot in the arm—thanks to underclassmen Steve Taylor and John Dawson—against Georgetown on Monday.
Taylor, who had been recovering from a knee injury, logged 23 minutes Monday night, which was more than his last four games combined. He scored 14 points and reeled in eight rebounds while providing a physical presence in the paint for Marquette.
Dawson’s performance truly came out of nowhere. The freshman point guard logged a season-high 31 minutes against the Hoyas and scored 12 points while dishing out four assists. The offense actually looked fluid with Dawson in the lineup, which is something that cannot be said when junior point guard Derrick Wilson was in the game.
One thing to watch will be whether Williams continues to ride his veteran guard or decides to throw the youngster into the starting role.
Mayo, the hero of Monday night's comeback, should also be watched. He tends to play his more productive games in spurts, with gaps in between that leave much to be desired from the junior shooting guard.
Although he scored only six points against Georgetown, his game-tying three could be a catalyst for another spurt of encouraging play, which would be a big boost for the Golden Eagles off of the bench.
Despite coming off of its worst loss of the season, the Wildcats are still a formidable opponent, and they will likely get a relatively high seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. A win for the Golden Eagles on their home floor would not just be a statement; rather, it would be a season-changing moment.
And if there’s one thing the Golden Eagles need, it’s change.